Crusader castles served several purposes at the same time, operating as offensive bases, as defensive bastions, and as statements of power. Which of these roles was the most important may never be answered. The priorities of those who financed, built, garrisoned and defended them changed according to circumstances. At the turn of the 13 th century, one thing was, however, clear to the rulers, churchmen, knights, common soldiers and civilians that inhabited them. Since the fiasco of the Second Crusade in 1148 the Crusader States largely had to rely upon their own resources and on diplomatic as well as military methods of defence. Yet this was far from easy. Following the death of the sympathetic Byzantine Emperor Manuel in 1180, it proved impossible for the Crusader States to form a genuine alliance with the Byzantine Empire. In fact increasing diplomatic, political, economic and religious friction between the Orthodox Christian east and the Latin or Catholic west led to a virtual alliance between the Byzantines and the Crusader States' most formidable foe, Saladin.
Consequently the Crusader States developed a more cautious strategy. The original expansionist spirit largely disappeared and was replaced by a pragmatic emphasis on survival within a predominantly hostile environment. Paradoxically, however, there was a decline in cooperation between the remaining three Crusader States as each concentrated on its own immediate problems.
The Third Crusade was at best only a partial success; nevertheless, it achieved more than any subsequent Crusading expeditions. Meanwhile the strengthening of those fortifications that remained in Crusader hands, the building of some new castles, and massive efforts to strengthen the defences of Crusader-held towns, continued until the final collapse in 1291. In some ways the military situation was now easier, because the Latin or western European colonists held fewer positions than they had before the disasters of 1187. Several of these fortified sites were immensely strong, and remain impressive pieces of architecture to this day.
Although the abundance of Crusader castles was a sign of the military weakness of the Crusader States, the popular view that the ruling elites and knights of the 13th-century Crusader States had 'gone soft' as a result of contact with a supposedly enervating Arab-Islamic culture is nonsense. In reality the states of Antioch, Tripoli and Jerusalem (so-called in name only, since the Kingdom of Jerusalem rarely controlled the Holy City itself) had developed effective defensive systems. These were based upon experience, realism and an ability to learn from their neighbours. The baronial families of the Crusader States may have regarded France as their cultural ideal, but in international politics as well as everyday life the elites of the Crusader States had more in common with the urbanised and mercantile elites of 13th-century Italy.
Urbanisation was also a feature of the 13th-century Crusader States. They were now little more than coastal enclaves clinging to the fringe of the Middle East. Of the towns and cities that at various times formed the Kingdom of Jerusalem, only 14 towns had circuit walls. Of these, 12 were already walled before the Crusaders arrived. The two exceptions were Atlit, south of Haifa, which was a new Crusader foundation, and Acre's similarly new suburb of Montmussard. Elsewhere the Crusaders strengthened what already existed, and most of such efforts date from after the Third Crusade. Furthermore, the vast costs of urban refortification projects were often covered by Crusader leaders from western Europe.
The aftermath of catastrophe
Saladin's victory over the army of the Crusader States at Hattin in 1187 was followed by Islam regaining Jerusalem and almost all of what had been the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The County of Tripoli also lost territory although the Principality of Antioch suffered far less. A fourth Crusader state, the County of Edessa, had already fallen to Islamic reconquest. These events were the immediate background to the Third Crusade, which then became a massive effort led by three senior Western European rulers to regain what had been lost. The effort failed, but it enabled the Crusader States to survive for a further century.
Although the Crusader States never recovered from Saladin's campaigns, they did enjoy a limited respite during the rest of the Ayyubid period, when Saladin's successors adopted a less aggressive policy towards the European settlers. A system of fluctuating alliances often characterised this period, with one or more Crusader States allying themselves with one or more of the fragmented Ayyubid sultanates. This impacted upon the history of specific castles, like Belfort, which was lost to Saladin. It was then strengthened by his Ayyubid successors before the Sultan of Damascus agreed to hand it back to the Crusaders as part of an alliance agreement in 1240. However, the garrison disagreed, and so the Sultan had to besiege his own fortress in order to hand it over to the Christians. The titular lord of Belfort then died and his successor sold the castle to the Templars, because this wealthy Military Order was better able to defend it. During the few years that the Templars held Belfort they were credited with constructing an outwork, 250m from the main castle, to stop a besieger dominating the fortress from a nearby hill, probably reflecting the increasing range of stone-throwing siege machines.
These years also saw some 'offensive' building projects, perhaps including work on a new citadel in Tiberius, though there is no evidence that the town was recolonised. Even Jerusalem was regained by negotiation in 1229, only to be lost permanently 15 years later. During this brief reoccupation, efforts were made to strengthen the fortifications that had been rased by Saladin, including work on two gates. However, this cannot have been effective, as even local Muslim peasants could sometimes break in.
The situation became far more serious during the second half of the 13 th century, when the warlike Mamluk Sultanate replaced the Ayyubids. This period saw major efforts to strengthen Crusader defences, especially urban fortifications. The castles, which had proved quite successful during the first half of the 13th century, were now picked off as part of a Mamluk grand strategy initiated by Sultan Baybars. The Christians responded with even stronger fortifications and a massive building programme during the final decades of the Crusader States.
By 1242 changes in the balance of power between the king and his barons resulted in new laws regarding the custody of royal fortresses. Meanwhile other fortifications were appearing within some Crusader-held coastal cities. Here virtually autonomous Italian merchant communes were playing an increasingly important military and political role, while also importing their own quarrels - rivalries that led to Genoese, Venetians and Pisans attacking each others' fortified towers inside cities such as Acre. Similarly the rivalry between 'Imperial' and 'anti-Imperial' factions for domination of what remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem not only caused brawling in the streets but even small-scale siege warfare. Given such mounting problems, it is not surprising that much of the Crusader aristocracy abandoned Syria, Lebanon and Palestine to seek new opportunities in Crusader-ruled Cyprus and the Crusader States of Greece (the subject of a third Fortress volume in this sequence, Crusader Castles in Cyprus, Greece and the Aegean 1191-1571).
Despite the vulnerable situation in which the Crusader States found themselves, many 13th-century fortifications seem to have been built for offensive as well as defensive purposes. Furthermore, it is wrong to suggest that the Crusader States now had no broad military strategy. Another entrenched myth maintains that Crusader fortifications formed a 'Line of Defence'. In fact they continued to serve as secure centres of administration while providing bases for both offence and defence. Furthermore these castles, fortified towns, cities and even isolated towers could support one another to some extent. Their functions, and the military thinking that lay behind them, were essentially the same in the 13th century as they had been in the 12th. Their eventual failure resulted from the unification of Egypt and Syria under the aggressive leadership of the Mamluk sultans - just as the catastrophe of 1187-88 resulted from the unification of Egypt and Syria under Saladin. By the later 13th century, however, the balance of power had shifted strongly in favour of the Muslims, while interest in Crusading and in the fate of the Crusader States slumped in western Europe.
Fortifications of the Crusader States of the Middle East, c. 1241, and the main areas controlled by the Military Orders.
Fortifications of the Principality of Antioch c. 1229, and the main communication routes.
Only one significant inland castle was regained in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, namely Calansue, which was held from 1191 to 1265; the settler population was now even more concentrated on the coast than it had been before 1187. For example, the suburb of Montmussard on the northern side of Acre expanded and required fortification. Jaffa had expanded beyond its pre-Crusader walls, while the new castle at Atlit was soon followed by a new town. A comparable process may have taken place further north, around some of the remaining inland castles like Montfort, Safad and Crac des Chevaliers. Trade was another stimulus to fortification, with small castles protecting vulnerable routes through Crusader territory. Here they could levy tolls, as did the isolated Burj al-Sabi tower, next to the coastal road south of Banyas. Meanwhile fortified towns continued to develop as centres of trade because of the security they offered.
The Principality of Antioch had long been involved in the affairs of the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia in neighbouring Cilicia. During the 13th century the Military Orders were also given several castles in this region. Some were existing Byzantine or Islamic structures, which the Orders strengthened or rebuilt. Others were new foundations. Generally speaking the Armenians only permitted the Crusading Orders to hold castles in the vulnerable south-eastern and south-western border regions, though the Teutonic Knights did play a political role in support of Armenian rulers, perhaps because they were less of a threat than the longer established Hospitallers and Templars.